- Russia has cracked down on posts about the war in Ukraine that contradict its state propaganda.
- Research found that Russia had blocked 300 fringe websites hosting identical blocks of text about the war.
- These websites included a pet grooming site, a scary stories blog, and a website for a tattoo parlor.
Russia is sweeping incredibly dark parts of the internet in its effort to prevent its citizens from seeing information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, new research has found.
Data collected by digital rights and privacy group Top10VPN and shared with Insider showed that Russia is blocking hundreds of small websites. These include a pet grooming site, a short horror story blog, and a tattoo parlor’s website.
Russia has suppressed any message that contradicts its propaganda line that the invasion of Ukraine is nothing more than a “special military operation”.
The blocking of these niche sites shows how the Russian state is cracking down on even the most marginal parts of the internet to control war information.
Top10VPN discovered that many niche sites blocked by Russia contained the same piece of Russian-language text attempting to inform readers about the war in Ukraine.
Top10VPN researcher Samuel Woodhams told Insider he found about 300 sites with the same text about the war. He discovered that they had been blocked by Russia by researching a publicly available list of blocked websites from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office.
The pet grooming site, the horror story blog, and the tattoo parlor website all had the same text.
It begins: “Russia has attacked Ukraine! We Ukrainians hope you already know this. For the sake of your children and any hope for light at the end of this hell, please finish reading our letter”, according to a machine translation provided to Insider by Woodhams.
Woodhams said the text was often hidden in hard-to-find resource pages on those websites.
This directly contradicts Russian state propaganda, including Putin’s statement that Russia is “denazifying” Ukraine.
“Although it is unclear who is responsible for spreading this message, it is clear that efforts are being made to reach Russian citizens and circumvent [Russia’s] vast apparatus of censorship,” Woodhams told Insider.
“While these obscure websites are unlikely to have huge reach, the numbers are strong and with so many domains affected it is likely that some will have escaped the Russian censorship apparatus,” he said. declared.
Woodhams found other blocked websites, including a sudoku website, which also contained information about the war in Ukraine.
Sites alluding to the conflict in other ways are also blocked. “Sports websites, for example, are often blocked for interviewing a footballer who speaks openly about the dispute,” Woodhams said.
Russia has already blocked mainstream online platforms and sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Since the start of the invasion, 960 news domains have been blocked in Russia, according to Top10VPN.
On April 24, Russia also blocked Chess.com, which had publicly declared its condemnation of the February 26 invasion of Ukraine.
Chess.com said in a statement that its apps continued to work even though its website was blocked.
“We gladly encourage our Russian members to continue to access our site using our apps or one of the many great services
services that are so essential in Russia,” he said.
Russian demand for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) has increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. VPNs allow users to access information otherwise blocked in their country.
Following the invasion, Ukrainians and activists found ingenious ways to circumvent Russian internet censorship.
Some posted Google reviews of restaurants and places with messages about Ukraine, leading Google to block such Russian reviews in early March.
Ukrainian ad professionals formed a volunteer group to target Russian internet users with ads debunking misinformation about the invasion, Insider’s Lara O’Reilly reported in March.